78: Comfort and Joy

78: Comfort and Joy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Comfort and Joy

Let your tears come. Let them water your soul.

~Eileen Mayhew

It was a sad Christmas. My twin sister Sue had died suddenly the spring before. I missed her every day. But nothing broke my heart more than missing her at Christmas.

Decorating the tree had been tough. While Marc and the kids unloaded boxes of ornaments, I made cocoa and placed the mugs on the coffee table along with a plate of sugar cookies.

I tried to be cheerful for the sake of my family. It was Christmas after all. Christmas was supposed to be a time of joy and good cheer.

My husband touched my arm and gave me a hug. “How are you doing, hon?”

“I’m fine,” I answered bravely. But was I?

Marc unraveled the Christmas lights. I put our favorite Christmas carol CD in the player. Karen Carpenter’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” began to play. I quietly braced myself for the lyrics I knew were coming: “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.” My insides started to churn, but I kept a smile on my face and continued to hang ornaments with the children.

The children chatted away. “Oh I bought this one at the craft show!” Caroline squealed with delight, holding up a wooden snow-flake painted snowy white. Lauren hung a favorite soccer ornament with her name on it.

“Mom, do you remember this one?” Dan asked, finding the red cable car ornament we had picked up in San Francisco a few years back. They worked thoughtfully on the branches of the tree as they reminisced.

I reflected quietly. Joyful memories of Christmases long ago with Sue flooded my mind. But I didn’t mention the memories out loud for fear of breaking down and crying. This was Christmas. I was going to be happy and enjoy this! No tears!

However, the more I tried to hold in my feelings, the harder it became. The ornaments felt like weights as I hung each one. The children had no idea how quickly I wanted to get this over with. It had become a chore instead of a pleasure.

Finally we were finished. Our younger children, Caroline and Dan, scooted out the front door to play in the bright winter midday sun. Our oldest, Lauren, headed up to her room to get ready to go out with some friends from college.

I began to pick up traces of tinsel, scattered hooks and empty candy cane wrappers. Marc was across the room. He was organizing the boxes that previously held tiny colorful Christmas lights, years of treasured ornaments and the somewhat gaudy but beloved red, green, and silver blinking star that graced the top of our tree each year.

“Oh no!” Marc suddenly shouted as he looked toward our beautifully decorated Christmas tree. I turned just in time to see our six-foot Scotch pine come crashing down.

Miniature nutcrackers, reindeer, snowmen and Santa ornaments were launched through the air as some of the blue and silver Christmas balls shattered on the floor. Pine branches snapped and water splattered everywhere. After a moment of stunned silence, I just shook my head and laughed. “Well, there you go!” I said to my husband. “And that is how I really feel about Christmas this year!”

Strangely, as I looked at the mess on the floor, I felt relieved! When the tree came crashing down it somehow validated my feelings.

Lauren had heard the crash and had come down the stairs, “What happened?” she exclaimed. As if on cue, Dan and Caroline came through the front door. Caroline cried when she saw all the broken ornaments and Christmas balls. Dan just stared.

“Okay, on the count of three.” Marc said. We carefully lifted the tree back into the stand. This time, we made sure the tree was completely secured in place.

I gathered up all the unbroken Christmas balls and ornaments off the floor and placed them on the table between leftover cookies and empty mugs of cocoa. I swept up broken glass and pine needles, as Marc mopped up the wet floor and refilled the stand with fresh water. He then restrung some of the twinkling lights that had come undone.

I hesitated for only a moment before putting the Christmas music back on. When “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” came on for the second time, I decided to let the tears flow. Marc gave me another hug.

I felt comfort in releasing my tears. I let the Christmas music wash over me. This time decorating the tree seemed more like healing than a chore. Sharing my feelings had actually lifted my spirits. As Marc and I decorated, I began to chat about some of my favorite Christmas memories of Sue.

“When we were little girls,” I began, “Sue and I would sneak out of our beds early in the morning. We’d giggle and shush each other as we tiptoed down the hallway and slowly opened the door so it wouldn’t creak. Our hearts leaped with joy as we gazed at our Christmas tree and caught a peak of what Santa had left. After a few moments we closed the door carefully and just as quietly walked back to our room whispering until we got the official okay from Mom or Dad to get up.”

Marc smiled and nodded knowingly, since he had heard this story and others many times before. Now that Sue was gone, he too cherished my memories of her.

The last decoration I picked up was a needlepoint ornament of a rocking horse pressed in a small brass frame. I sighed. Sue had made it for me. I placed it with love on the tree.

We finished the tree for a second time. Marc plugged in the lights and we admired our work. “Two trees in one day. Not bad,” Marc said.

As I looked at our lovely tree I spotted Sue’s rocking horse ornament. It made me smile. Then it occurred to me. So often at Christmastime tears and joy are intermingled. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; it can be both. Bringing joyful memories and tears to the surface instead of suppressing them brought Sue a little closer to me. I felt comforted. I felt joy. I felt the love of Christmas.

~Donna Teti

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